Some of Russia’s most elite troops appear to be eying a variant of the Chechen-made Chaborz M-3 combat buggy modified for Arctic operations. Looking like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster or better suited to carrying around action figures, the vehicle is the latest indication of the country’s steadily expanding presence in the highly strategic Arctic Region.
The Arctic or “Northern” variant of the M-3 first appeared at a training exercise in the Franz Josef Archipelago, a chain of islands in Russia’s far north that sits above the Arctic Circle, in March 2018. The National Guard of Russia hosted this event, which also included special operations elements from the country’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, and the semi-autonomous region of Chechnya. Regular Russian military forces also took part and the vehicles subsequently appeared at other National Guard drills in the region.
“The training conducted under special geographical and climactic conditions allows us to try out new forms of military action, harmonize management systems and to test perspective kinds of military equipment and armament,” Viktor Zolotov, head of the Russian National Guard, said after one of these events in April 2018. “Without a doubt, the experience acquired by the troops will be used to prepare other units.”
The exercises in the Franz Josef Archipelago consisted of a number of counter-terrorism scenarios, including responding to a mock hijacking aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker
Sovetsky Soyuz. In addition to the modified Chaborz, these drills featured a variety of other new and advanced equipment, including special operators inserting using wingsuits and employing improved navigational equipment.
The video below shows various scenes from the exercises in the Franz Josef Archipelago, including the Arctic Chaborz M-3 in action.
The drill, which occurred in March 2018, appears to be the first ever public appearance of the Arctic M-3, though. There is little information about the vehicle as of yet, but it seems to be a relatively simple conversion of the original design that replaces the rear, powered wheels with triangle-shaped tracks and substitutes the front, unpowered axel with a pair of skis.
The basic M-3 is 4x2 dune buggy type vehicle that has room for a driver, a second occupant sitting next to them with a mounted 7.62mm machine gun, and a third individual seated in a semi-raised position in the rear manning another weapon. The mount in the latter position can accept a 7.62mm machine gun or a 30mm automatic grenade launcher.
The original Chaborz was the product of a collaboration between Chechnya’s F-Motorsport and the private Russian University of Spetsnaz. The word “spetsnaz,” a contraction of a Russian phrase that translates as “special purpose,” is roughly analogous to the generic English term “special operations forces.”
Chechen manufacturer Chechenauto then began serial production of the M-3 in 2017 and introduced a larger, six-man M-6 type that same year. The original Chaborz weighs around 2,800 pounds, significantly less than even specially designed lightweight 4x4 tactical vehicles, and can hit a top speed on improved roads of over 80 miles per hour. It reportedly has good off-road capabilities, as well.
It is unclear whether the Northern model has comparable performance. Video from the exercises in the Franz Josef Archipelago, seen at the beginning of this article, does show it keeping pace with personal snowmobiles and demonstrating significant maneuverability in the snowy conditions.
If the Arctic version has similar capabilities, it could be a boon over existing snowmobiles, dog sleds, and other means of transportation the Russian military currently employs in the region. It definitely has more organic firepower with its mounted weapons than any of those existing options.
The Arctic type is almost certainly just as air-transportable as the standard M-3, which would further increase its flexibility. The regular wheeled design can fit inside a Mi-17-type helicopter, as well as larger fixed-wing cargo aircraft, such as the Il-76, An-32, or An-74 cargo planes.
All of these features could make it much better suited to supporting small units in the assault, conducting reconnaissance, or supporting special operators during direct action missions when compared to the Berkut-2, another snowmobile that Russia recently began acquiring for Arctic operations. Those vehicles feature a fully-enclosed, heated cab, but are much slower and only have a single machine gun mount in the rear.
The Chaborz would leave its occupants fully exposed to the elements, though, which might limit its ability to conduct operations for extended periods, and there's no obvious armor protection for the troops on board. It’s not clear how well its largely exposed drivetrain and other components would be able to withstand protracted exposure to sub-zero temperatures. Of course, the Berkut-2's gunner sits outside the vehicle and there is no indication that its car-type body provides any significant defense, either.
Stil, the Northern M-3 might ultimately be most attractive to the National Guard or other Russian state security forces for political reasons. Chechenauto reportedly developed the vehicle specifically at the behest of Ramzan Kadyrov, the flamboyant, social media-savvy, dictatorial leader of the semi-autonomous republic and major ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kadyrov was also directly responsible for the creation of the Russian University of Spetsnaz in the Chechen city of Gudermes in 2013 and is featured prominently on its website. The center has since become heavily linked to the National Guard.
Putin created that force, which reports directly to Office Of The President, in 2016. In a separate presidential decree, Zolotov, the head of the organization, got a seat on the country’s National Security Council underscoring the political clout associated with the new organization.
The National Guard is ostensibly responsible for internal security and has taken over control of various special operations forces including elements previously assigned to the Ministry of the Interior. However, reports have painted the group as a sort of Praetorian Guard to protect Putin’s government and there are reports that it has also deployed forces to support covert activities, such as working with separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.
In addition, in line with Putin’s push to increase Russia’s presence in the Arctic, both the National Guard and Chechen Spetsnaz have been increasingly involved in training exercises and other activities in the region. In 2016, those elite Chechen forces and members of the Russian National Guard took part in joint drills at the North Pole.
But regardless of the vehicle’s exact performance or whoever might end up employing it, the Northern Chaborz is definitely another indicator of the Arctic’s growing significance in Russia’s domestic and foreign policy plans. The militarized snowmobile is likely to be just one of many new specialized cold weather military vehicles that will appear in the near future.
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